A Lot on the Line for Notre Dame in Citrus Bowl

Many people will call any bowl game that isn’t in the College Football Playoff meaningless or just an exhibition.  For Notre Dame though, their Citrus Bowl showdown with LSU on Monday is anything but meaningless. The Irish have a lot on the line when they square off with the Tigers in Orlando and the outcome could help shape another critical off-season for the Irish.

10 Wins is a Big Deal for Notre Dame, This Year

A year after finishing an embarassing 4-8, ending 2017 with 10 wins – albeit after a November swoon – would be a very big deal for Notre Dame.  We can argue all day long about how Notre Dame shouldn’t have ended the season like they did, but when all is said and done, 10 wins after 4 wins is a huge improvement.

A 10th win will give Notre Dame a good boost on the recruiting trail as the Irish look to lock up a few more elite prospects for 2018 and start focusing on 2019 with only a handful of spots remaining to fill in February thanks to the early signing period.  A bowl loss would mean ending the season with three losses in five games and would only feed the narrative of the “same old Notre Dame” that the Irish staff have to fight off. A win and Brian Kelly and staff can sweep over the 4-8 mark in 2016 by selling the story of it being sandwiched between two 10 win seasons.

Ten wins should never be the goal for Notre Dame, but it should be a barometer of success.  At Notre Dame, with 13 games to play, anything less than 10 wins should be considered disappointing.  If the Irish can head into the off-season on the heels of a 10 win season and look back at wins over Michigan State, USC, NC State, and in this scenario LSU; they are going to have an extra pep in the step throughout off-season workouts.

Just getting to 10 wins isn’t the accomplishment that it once was, but if Notre Dame were to win on Monday and finish 10-3 with a victory over LSU on their resume, it’s hard to imagine the Irish not moving back into the top 10.  Should they finish in the top 10, it would be just the third top 10 finish for Notre Dame since 1994 (2005 and 2012).

Notre Dame Needs to Beat a Good Defense Again

The Notre Dame offense looked like it was on its way to being a juggernaut in October.  The Irish were running all over supposed elite defenses like NC State on their way to being firmly in the CFP hunt.  Then November happened and Notre Dame struggled to do anything offensively against Miami and looked anemic against Stanford outside of a few short passes that turned into long touchdowns after the catch.

The Notre Dame offense is still a work in progress we have learned and now they will face a really good LSU defense.  The narrative in October was the offense was unstoppable.  The narrative in November was the Irish couldn’t do anything against good defenses.  With a month of preparation for LSU we’ll have a better idea of which is more true even with Notre Dame missing three of its top four receivers because of injuries and suspensions.

Notre Dame needs to show signs of improvement on Monday – especially in the short passing game which is a staple of the Chip Long offense.  Notre Dame looked inept trying to run any short passes – specifically any sort of wide receiver screen.  Seeing Notre Dame successfully execute a few of those after the month of bowl prep would be encouraging heading into 2018.

Brandon Wimbush Needs a Big Game

Thanks to a forgettable performance against Stanford, Brandon Wimbush finished his first season as the starting quarterback for Notre Dame completing less than 50% of his passes.  In today’s game, completing less than 60% of your passes is considered below average.  Completing less than 50% of your passes is downright brutal.

We know Wimbush has a world of raw talent.  We know he can make all of the throws in practice.  And we know that he can make jaw dropping plays with his legs when things break down.  What we don’t know yet is if he can protect the football well enough to become an elite quarterback or if he can beat a defense with his arm alone.  There have been glimpses of his ability to do that.  Wimbush didn’t have gaudy stats on the road against the Spartans in September, but he was efficient.  Against Wake Forest Wimbush showed flashes of being able to rely on his arm.

One area that has killed Wimbush this year is the deep ball.  He’s had receivers like Equanimeous St. Brown wide open down field multiple times only to miss fire on them.  In fact, if you went back and rewatched every game and counted all of those instances, St. Brown could easily have another 4-5 touchdowns this year and another couple hundred yards receiving.  If Wimbush can come out early and hit on one of those, it could build his confidence for the rest of the game.  It will be a challenge to do so without Kevin Stepherson’s speed at his disposal, but Notre Dame will still likely attempt one early.

Brian Kelly has been steadfast in support of his quarterback, but if Wimbush struggles again on Monday and plays anything like he did against Stanford, it’s hard to imagine the quarterback position for 2018 not being up for grabs in the off-season – especially with an elite freshman like Phil Jurkovec arriving on campus in the summer.

A win on Monday won’t erase the 41-8 loss to Miami or the blown 4th quarter lead to Stanford, but it would likely cap off a top 10 season a year after one of the worst seasons in Notre Dame football history.  When Notre Dame limped into a similar bowl game against LSU in 2014, the Irish responded with their best game of the season and left Nashville as winners of the Music City Bowl.  The following year, Notre Dame came up just a few points shy against Stanford and Clemson from being in the playoffs.  A win on Monday could propel Notre Dame towards another successful off-season aimed at improving on all of the work they’ve done since last January.

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  1. Either Irish players execute the game plans and the coaches are smart in their game plan calling or they lose ( again) in a Bowl. Forget the suspensions, yeah, an obstacle but not an impenetrable barrier to overcome to win the game. I’d rather see the team play more to their strength, which is running the ball with some passing here & there during this year and use formations that complement running the ball and using this hyped OL to initiate that. Though not an elite team, LSU will be a fair test. They may have some internal strife too with OC Matt Canada leaving after this game and that might be a sign of negative stuff happening in the LSU program, given he’s been there only 1 season. Win the game and enter 2018 on a great note. Lose and just confirm a big outside perception that there are only “has been’s” in South Bend. Nothing more, nothing less. As a fan, I want to see greatness return to the football program.

    Kick ass Irish

  2. We’re short on wide receivers and we have the best offensive line in the country and they want to go out with a bang – go for it.

    Wimbush just doesn’t seem as good to me as people have been touting him to be and he definitely doesn’t strike me as a “follow me” type.

    Lacking that kind of QB – we need 300 yards on the ground, not 200. Knock ’em flat, and then do it again and again.

  3. BTW:

    Wisconsin’s O line gave up just one sack and produced a hundred yard rusher.

    How ND’s O line continues to get awards and hype is beyond me. The Wisconsin O line is year in and year out superior.

  4. Wisconsin should rush the Miami bench and take the TO chain back to Madison!

    Let’s see what ND does on Monday. My guess is not half of what we just Wisconsin do.

    Football is the easiest game. Control both lines and run the ball on O. Can make an even average QB look great.

  5. People around here love to make excuses for ND recruiting. Weather, academics, etc. Well, Wisconsin has worse weather and just as demanding academics.

    They can’t recruit like ND. But what program has been better over the last twenty years.

    It’s about coaching. Wisconsin has had some good ones, beginning with ND’s own Barry Alvarez. ND has had the murderers’ row of Davies, Willingham, Weis, and Kelly.

    Enough said.

    Another thing, what a delight to see a power running team that actually uses a FB!

    1. Meant to say, of course, which of these two programs, Wisconsin or ND, has been better over the last twenty years?

      If we’re honest, we all know the answer to that.

      Look at their major bowl wins compared to ND over that period of time.

      If ND had only been able to hire Barry Alvarez to replace Lou!

    2. All praise to Wisconsin. Both ND and Wisconsin should be in the top 10…and that’s great for college football.

      BK went to a championship game and has grown in the job. He doesn’t belong with those other three losers.

    3. Rivals has ND at #6 and Wisconsin at #33. I’d like to see a ND-Wisconsin game every few years. Their victory over the thugs was a delight.

  6. Wisconsin showing the character and coaching ND lacks!

    Looked like they were about to get blown out by the U but have shown tons of guts!

  7. What Swarbrick et al view as “on the line” for ND Football in this bowl game has already been successfully accomplished: Game and airline tickets got bought, Orlando hotel rooms and restaurants got filled, and lots of expensive ND gear got sold.

    The money changers in the temple.

    1. Don’t always agree with you David, but you are exactly right here. As long as the cash comes in everything is a-ok. Like that genius move next season to play the syracuse game at yankee stadium rather than home. Jackie couldn’t care about titles. To him 9-3 or 9-4 or 10-3 is perfectly fine.

  8. With a month to prepare and get some R&R, ND ought to be improved in this game. Also there should not be many distractions. No one outside the world of ND fandom is really paying a whole lot of attention to this game, everyone is too wrapped up with playoff matchups. So there’s no reason for them not to be focused as a team. Also, the early signing recruiting went well without any drama. The only drama was the 2 player suspensions, but I believe they have the depth to overcome that.

    This should be a good litmus test for ND at this point. LSU is an above average team, but they are not an elite team. Team vs. team on paper, they should be evenly matched. If ND loses, that’s a problem. ND needs this win. A win won’t mean ND is elite, but it gives them something to build on. Lose, and it’s pretty much back to square one.

    No doubt this year started with promise and ended with a dud. Miami crushed us, and they are not even an elite team, as their following games proved. What I saw out of Miami after their blowout over ND told me that the result should have been the reverse. Miami was not nearly as good as we made them look. Stanford should have been a win too. So ND needs to go out an take care of business on Monday. No more excuses. Get it done.

  9. ND will need to rush for 200 yards to win. Putting it on Wimbush’s arm won’t work. He simply is not the passer.
    Whether or not BK has figured that out is the question.

    LSU won’t give up the big pass play but will surrender the big run if BK has the guts to stick w/ the run game.

    1. OK Ccb – that could work – but you better get in a running formation if that is going to be your game plan – and the “passless” SPREAD ain’t it. The “I”, the Houston Veer, various split backs, the bone, the old Pro Set offense etc…sure, with our running backs and our “O” line, it could be a long bruised filled and frustrating day for LSU. But with the “passless” SPREAD…mark my words…it’ll be second and nine, third and eight and now we try to pass against 6 drop backers 4 no holds barred pass rushers and a spy all day long! Good luck with that! The old 4 P’s offense…Pinckett, Pinckett, Pass and Punt. It doesn’t work pal. From my field in education, the definition of a severe learning disability is trying to use the same flawed strategy or technique over and over again, and somehow being surprised that it still doesn’t work! If you want to power run against them Ccb, so do I, so do I! But you need to do it from a power run formation – or from a SPREAD which is a pass first threat…not from a SPREAD which is a near ZERO pass threat. That’s just reality getting in the way my friend.

      BGC ’77 ’82

      BGC ’77 ’82

  10. Awful article but Frank sucks so it’s not surprising. So 10 wins is on the line. Thats about it. The other two subjects you mentioned arent something thats “on the line”…just two things that may need to to happen to get to 10 wins. Hopefully ND plays a perfect game on the 1st otherwise UHND will tweet the entire game how ND sucks and how he hates ND.

  11. Frank, you just said everything that needs to be said about this game. Far from being meaningless – this game will define an entire season one way or the other. And letting their LB’s and DB’s play with confidence that even if two or three of our SPREAD receivers are open the chances of a completion are LESS than 50-50!!! – well, that is simply DEATH without a cure.

    There are three fixes: 1) Wimbush throws decently…or 2) Suprise them. Get in the “I” with a fullback who blocks like a Rhino and runs like a pissed off Gorilla…or 3) “Dan Devine” them with a brutal, stifling defense and a good punter until they turn it over in the red zone, and beat them 10-6…that’s risky business though…no margin for error there!

    BGC ’77 ’82

  12. Frank, glad you tell it like it is. Luckily, no defections on defensive side of the ledger. I see the Irish “d” taking over and dictating this game. That willl take pressure offf Wimbush and He can be caretaker and control the clock.

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